Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) concludes a seven-season term of office for HBO's 'Veep' with Sunday's series finale. (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
Spoiler alert: This recap contains significant details from the series finale of the HBO comedy, “Veep.”
“Veep” ended with Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) doing the most despicable things – even by her standards – to avoid the most dreaded fate she could imagine: a return to obscurity, i.e., the loathed vice presidency.
The show, which won three consecutive Emmys for best comedy series and six back-to-back best-actress trophies for Louis-Dreyfus, closed with a meticulously structured final episode that featured both its strengths and weaknesses.
The extra-long episode, which clocked in at 48 minutes, featured wonderful flourishes and callbacks but continued an unfortunate trend of debasing its characters, especially Selina, to the point where they often were more mean than funny. The series made Selina more despicable than she had to be, but – to its credit – didn’t try to redeem her in the finale.
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The 'Veep' braintrust, such as it is – Ben (Kevin Dunn), left, Kent (Gary Cole), Keith (Andy Daly), Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Gary (Tony Hale) – gather for one of the last times in the series finale. (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
After a season spent on Selina’s tenacious drive to return to the White House, the finale opens at her unnamed political party’s nominating convention in Charlotte, N.C. with all the candidates – Selina; moronic former underling Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons); Gov. Buddy Calhoun (Matt Oberg); and Sen. Kemi Talbot (Toks Olagundoye) – short of a majority.
On the way to a candidates’ meeting, Selina runs into Calhoun her prospective vice presidential running mate and Mike Pence stand-in. He’s a man chosen entirely for ticket-balancing purposes: wounded war veteran, Roman Catholic (“Is that still a thing?” Selina asks) and, as she put in perfect “Veep”-ness, “Most importantly, he has a penis.”
At the meeting, Jonah protests the delegate vote count, casting aspersions on mathematics because of its centuries-old roots in the Arab and Muslim world and instead advocating for “Christian math.” His unwillingness to accept the numbers, along with his anti-vaccination campaign plank, hits way too close to our real world, one of the show’s longtime satiric strengths that also became a limitation amid the unconventional presidency of Donald Trump.
Convention chairman Roger Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl), a favorite recurring character who tosses off one of his signature disgusting harangues, explains that the fight for the nomination will now be a delegate free-for-all.
On the way out, Selina accidentally uses a men’s bathroom, earning applause from some bystanders when she emerges. Smart but supercilious aide Kent Davison (Gary Cole) explains the reaction: “Congratulations, Ma’am. You just broke North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law.” (Fact check: A transgender restriction from a 2016 North Carolina law was removed in 2017, although the replacement law remains under litigation.)
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The up-and-down relationship of political operatives Dan (Reid Scott), left, and Amy (Anna Chlumsky) has been a 'Veep' highlight. (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
“Veep” then touches on another real-world event – Russian spy Maria Butina – by having scheming former aide Dan Egan (Reid Scott) and latest meal ticket, the sweetly oblivious Iowa Gov. Richard Splett (Sam Richardson), run into an older delegate with an impossibly hot young Ukranian girlfriend.
Selina, dogged by stories about the shady dealings of the Meyer Fund (a parallel to the Clinton Foundation and other politically connected nonprofits), enjoys the boost (and more importantly, distraction) from her accidental bathroom activism. It even earns her praise from her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) and her spouse, Marjorie (Clea DuVall).
However, the move, however, does not fly with Selina’s holy roller running-mate pick Calhoun, who explains his opposition in a TV interview: “God created men’s rooms and women’s rooms, not everyone rooms.”
With that option shelved, Selina calls on another former aide, Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), one of the more upstanding “Veep” candidates – that is, until she uncharacteristically threw her integrity away by working for Jonah.
Thinking she had the upper hand, Selina offers Jonah a Cabinet position where he can do “the least amount of harm”: “EPA,” her blithely cynical aide Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) suggests. But that is before they hear news reports that a bombing suspect has been identified as a math teacher of Middle Eastern descent who advocates radical Islam and trigonometry. Advantage, Jonah!
Jonah exploits that at a political rally, offering a xenophobic, apocalyptic appeal that clearly still resonates today: “This is a horrific country and it’s falling apart because it is full of people who are different than me. I was right and I should be president.”
Marjorie (Clea DuVall), left, and Selina's daughter, Catherine (Sarah Sutherland), have forged a strong relationship on 'Veep.' (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
For once, Jonah’s foul-mouthed Uncle Jeff (the always delightful Peter MacNicol) celebrates rather than castigates his nephew. He then spews bile at a Vermont delegation leader, hanging up and promising to “hit them with bad cop” later.
Selina maniacally tries to prevent Jonah from breaking her Texas firewall, describing a debasing situation involving assault rifles and slavery-free textbooks, as she becomes ever more self-absorbed: “Why is this so hard? I just want to be president.”
With her hopes for the top of the ticket fading, she nevertheless rejects out-of-hand Kent’s suggestion that she run for V.P. again. She knows how bad that job is.
Old-timer Ben, who has been running back and forth to delegations, suffers his latest heart attack in Selina’s presence. Kent, his constant companion and polar opposite, chimes in: “The eighth time’s the charm!”
Amiid all the political bedlam, Sen. Tom James (Hugh Laurie), the vice presidential nominee on Selina’s losing 2016 ticket and her one-time lover, jumps back into the race and appears likely to win. He sees Selina at Ben’s bedside and cuts her to the quick.
Puppy-dog aide Gary (Tony Hale), right, always by the side of Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), did not receive similar loyalty in return. (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
“You don’t have a political future, Selina. That’s your punishment,” he says.
That enrages Selina, who cries after he leaves. Ben encourages her not to give up, indirectly pointing to her willingness to fight for what she cares about: self-aggrandizement and power.
Selina starts her comeback by poisoning the relationship between Tom and his top political aide and lover, Michelle York (Rhea Seehorn), leading to a teary-eyed televised denunciation that destroys his candidacy and likely his marriage. Tom screams at Selina for crossing a line, even in the dirty world of politics.
In the meantime, Selina promises everything to everyone, including drilling on federal lands to a Montana delegate and the repeal of same-sex marriage to Calhoun, in exchange for his endorsement.
Then she goes for the nuclear option, offering the vice presidency to likely the least qualified person in the country, Jonah. In a jaw-dropping moment for the cynical “Veep” characters, both Amy and Kent beg her not to pick Jonah.
The xenophobic nonsense spouted by Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) scored with those who attended his bizarre rallies. (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
She explains that he will be under control in that office, just as she was, and goes on to describe her disdain for the No. 2 job: “Being vice president is like being declawed, defanged, neutered, ball-gagged and sealed in an abandoned coal mine under two miles of human” excrement, she says.
Jonah, due to his mental infirmity, initially turns down the offer, but changes his mind when the much shorter Selina and Uncle Jeff stand up to him, screaming venom in stereo in one of the episode’s best visual jokes.
Catherine, whose wedding to Marjorie was planned by Selina in last week’s episode (as a cover to escape a foreign embassy), bursts in, lambasting her mother for her betrayal on same-sex marriage. Selina doesn’t care.
Finally, Selina is ready to accept the nomination, but one detail remains: A fall guy is needed to resolve the Meyer Fund situation. Selina commits her worst betrayal ever, serving up loyal, puppy dog aide Gary (Tony Hale) to the FBI.
Six months later, Selina is back in the White House as president, with much-missed gatekeeper Sue (Sufe Bradshaw) back, steering Vice President Jonah and his chief of staff, Amy, away from the Oval Office, in much the way one-time Vice President Selina was denied access to the source of governmental power.
Sweetly oblivious Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) is going places on HBO's 'Veep.' (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
Selina has new assistants, including Tom James’ former aide/lover, but she misses Gary. She attained her goal, but she can never be happy.
“Veep” then skips 24 years ahead to Selina’s death and presidential funeral, revealing one-time rival Kemi served two terms as president and that the current commander-in-chief is none other than Richard Splett (Sam Richardson), who also won the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing peace to the Middle East.
Network anchor and former Selina press secretary Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh), a walking-talking example of the Peter Principle, talks about Selina’s legacy, which includes “permanently overturning same-sex marriage.”
Political aide Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) suffered another heart attack, but may have found his next wife in his hospital nurse, in the series finale of HBO's 'Veep.' (Photo: Colleen Hayes, HBO)
Selina’s aides, looking much older, are mostly there, with pony-tailed Kent now a jean-jacketed rancher, Amy married to another political operative and Dan married to a much younger woman. When Dan says it’s a long time since he and Amy were together, she responds, “The last time I saw you, your wife was being born.”
Others are missing: Ben is dead and Jonah watches from home, saying he didn’t want to attend. His wife cheerfully observes, “It was a good thing you got impeached, so they didn’t have to invite you.” Catherine celebrates with Marjorie and their son: “Who wants Margaritas?”
In a touching moment for a show that rarely goes there, one visitor stands guard at Selina’s casket: It’s Gary, ever by her side despite her unforgivable betrayal.
As Mike reports on Selina’s casket being moved to his final resting place, he has to switch gears to breaking news: Venerable actor Tom Hanks has died.
Sorry, Selina. Your time is up. The same is true for “Veep,” which will enjoy a far more favorable legacy, despite some late-stage bumps, than its title character.